Crowns and tiaras

Last spring, Greg Avioli’s decision to re-name the Distaff and to move all the filly/mare races to Friday occasioned much discussion in the racing press and in blogs. Some of us were even moved to start a petition to express our distress at this move, and to ask that Avioli and the Breeders’ Cup re-consider these changes.

Well, apparently, protesting changes to the female racing world is not a new pursuit. Checking into the history of Saturday’s Mother Goose Stakes, I discovered similar sorts of changes and at least one mocking cry of distress, by none other than Steve Crist, writing for the New York Times.

First run in 1957, the Mother Goose is named for the filly owned by Harry Payne Whitney who won the 1924 Futurity, one of thirteen fillies to do so. Mother Goose defeated twenty-eight other horses (!) that September day, and the Times rightly gives starter Mars Cassidy credit for getting the herd off to a good start.

While Mother Goose won or placed in other stakes races, I found more interesting than her story Crist’s 1989 discussion of the Triple Tiara. An informal filly triple crown of the Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan, and Coaching Club American Oaks existed, but New York had its own ideas, and called the Acorn, the Mother Goose, and the Coaching Club American Oaks the filly Triple Crown. According to Crist, some trademark folks at the male Triple Crown didn’t like this:

Two years ago, when the big Triple Crown started flexing its newly incorporated and copyrighted muscles, it was suggested to Belmont Park officials that calling anything but the Triple Crown a triple crown might confuse the public.

It is difficult to see how anyone who can spell ”triple,” much less bet one, would confuse the Acorn, Mother Goose and C.C.A. Oaks with the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. But just to be safe, track officials renamed
the fillies’ series the Triple Tiara. (New York Times)

Beyond Saratoga in the summer, I wasn’t paying much attention to racing in 1987, but I wonder how I might have reacted. Would I have found the substitution of “tiara” for “crown” offensive? Would I have scoffed at the sexism? Would I have ridiculed the image of a filly with a little diamantine ornament on her mane? I like to think so, but I don’t know.

Fortunately, Steve Crist was there to do it for me, and I read the following with much delight:

Not a single racetrack regular has yet to be overheard using the new name, perhaps because no one knows whether it should rhyme with Farrah or with sayonara. Whatever the pronunciation, the name change is insultingly sexist. When a queen rules a monarchy, she wears a crown, not a tiara. When Martina Navratilova wins the women’s singles championship at Wimbledon, she is not called the championess.

(Though not sure how I would reacted to the name change, I would have pointed out to Mr. Crist that then, as now, there are no women’s singles at Wimbledon, just ladies’ singles.)

Crist has much more to say about the Triple Tiara beyond a discussion of its name, but I will leave you to read that for yourself, if you are interested in the logic of the distances of the three races—I was going to talk about it, but realized that his argument, though less than twenty years old, is outdated because the distances of the races he discusses have been changed; it would require a whole post of its own to explain it.

Instead, I will note that the Triple Tiara has been won by a mighty impressive group of fillies, including Dark Mirage (the first to do so), Shuvee, Chris Evert, Ruffian, and Sky Beauty.

The name change is not the last alteration that this filly series underwent. In 2003, the Acorn was excised from the series and replaced with the Alabama, the oldest stakes race for fillies in the country. I was unable to uncover a rationale for the change, so please weigh in if you know. In the old configuration, all three races were run at Belmont; now, two are at Belmont and one is at Saratoga.

The short field in this weekend’s Mother Goose might augur well for a Triple Tiara win this year, given the lack of competition for the impressive Proud Spell, who returns victoriously to the track at which she won so decisively the Matron last fall, or unless Railbird favorite Music Note can step up to win a Grade I in her fourth lifetime start and first in stakes company (though yes, I know, only Proud Spell is really stakes company here).

Back on Saturday with a discussion of the Suburban, the other Grade I at Belmont this weekend.

3 thoughts on “Crowns and tiaras

  1. I like small fields if they’re quality—or mysterious.We get a bit o’ both in the Mother Goose.The Suburban group depresses me.

  2. A horse I considered one of the all-time greats — Sky Beauty — not only won the old Triple Tiara but added the Alabama as well. She seemingly won just about every New York graded stakes race for fillies and mares — eight Grade Is — but flopped, inexplicably, twice in the Breeders’ Cup for Allen Jerkens. The year she won the Triple Tiara and the Alabama, she got beat for the Eclipse by Hollywood Wildcat. Sky Beauty was the only graded stakes winner out of the mare Maplejinsky (a daughter of champion sprinter Gold Beauty), but Maplejinsky did produce another daughter — Silence Beauty — with Sunday Silence. Silence Beauty is the dam of Tale of Ekati, who brought the pedigree back to New York and won the Wood. — J.S.

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